December 2011 marks the one-year anniversary of my joining the Grover Beach City Council.
Never having been involved in any type of government, I quickly became aware of the great responsibility I had undertaken. I have become a primary decision maker for the welfare and continuing success of a city with a residential population of more than 13,000.
Recently, I read an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about the potential man-made causes of earthquakes. The article closes with the phrase “With knowledge comes responsibility.” That phrase hit home with me and my role in city government. In fact, with our upcoming city budget review, it is my mantra.
Like many cities, Grover Beach has a budget problem — in other words, a shortfall. For the past few years, Grover Beach has avoided dealing properly with the budget shortfall by selling city-owned property. It is true that the intent was to provide land for required low-income housing by selling it to the improvement agency. But to date, only the Farroll Road parcel is being developed and the land on Hillcrest has multiple problems associated with its development.
As a bookkeeper and business person, I know that you do everything you can to increase and preserve your assets. Your assets are your foundation and that is why I disagree with the sale of city-owned property for the purpose of balancing the budget.
What do you do when you have no assets left to sell? Where is the money going to come from to keep Grover Beach in the black?
The city must increase revenues and decrease expenses, just like any well run business. One cannot be a successful business owner or manage a city if expenses keep exceeding revenue.
I realize that my position leaves hard and unpopular choices to balance the budget. But those decisions are necessary to put the city on a sound financial footing for the future.
It is very important to remember that Grover Beach is a bedroom community — not a resort. Tourists come through Grover Beach and may stop for gas and groceries. Unfortunately, most visitors go to Pismo Beach for restaurants and for entertainment.
Grover Beach has the lowest taxable sales in San Luis Obispo County; property tax is one of the city’s major sources of revenue. Most residents of Grover Beach like it here for its feel of community.
Recently, the council has been struggling with the issue of vacation rentals. A vacation renter can affect most of a block and the block behind it, thereby destroying this sense of community. I am opposed to any ordinance that allows vacation rentals in any of the residential areas. A full-time resident will generate more in taxable sales for the city than the visiting renters of a house.
The city would be better off encouraging residents to fix up their homes by making it easier and less expensive to remodel, thus increasing property values and property taxes.
What are other ways to increase revenue in the city of Grover Beach?
All businesses in Grover Beach pay the same amount for a business license. A nail salon owner pays the same fee as a large grocery store chain. This must change. Most cities in California have annual business license fees based on the businesses’ sales.
There has been recent controversy over businesses using sandwich signs. Why not charge a yearly fee for the privilege to advertise your business on the sidewalk?
Parking on Grand Avenue is limited to two hours. There have complaints about the abuse of the two-hour limit. Why not hire a person to enforce our parking regulations and perhaps check for licensed sandwich signs to increase revenue?
Also, it is necessary to decrease our expenses. The City Council has talked about consolidating and/or contracting both dispatch and police with Arroyo Grande. Our police expenses are more than 50 percent of the budget. We need to look seriously at this.
Perhaps elected city officials should pay a portion of their reimbursed expenses, such as meals, when they are out of town on city business. It might be necessary to lay-off or give early retirement to a city employee. Or better yet, use that person to enforce the parking and sandwich sign ordinances.
In summary, I want to set the city on the road to fiscal stability. The city cannot keep selling property to balance the budget. This course only delays the day of reckoning. Laying off an employee now might save several jobs in the future. Let’s live within our means. It is a whole new world now. With knowledge comes responsibility.
Phyllis A. Molnar serves on the Grover Beach City Council.